The school Halloween party can truly live up to the reputation of this major fall holiday: nightmarish. I've taught at schools from both extremes of the Halloween issue:
- A school-wide, every-kid-and-teacher-dresses-up extravaganza that culminates in a costume parade through every classroom. (No learning distractions there, huh?!)
- A firm rule of “no Halloween” allowed. Periodhttps://classroomcaboodle.com/teacher-resource/school-family-communication/.
I've gotta say that the “no-Halloween” approach, while perhaps a bit Hallow-Scrooge to some, does make it a lot easier on a classroom teacher.
But the point here is that your school will most likely have a way they do the school Halloween party thing and you'll have to go along with it.
So assuming you have to handle the distraction of costumes, I'll discuss classroom behavior management for that little challenge, then talk over the classroom party aspect of the holiday – which is the part that you truly control (you know… after the parade winds down!).
But first… a word about keeping the fun classroom activities from ostracizing members of your classroom community.
Accommodating cultural differences
The school Halloween party is one celebration that some cultures and religions do not celebrate. We don't ask families to declare their religion upon enrolling (of course) so it is up to parents and students to inform you.
But an observant teacher will keep her ears open for clues and will be familiar with the traditions of the communities served by her school.
You can make it easier on your students to be open with you by mentioning that you understand the situation and for them to let you know so arrangements or an excused absence can be made for Halloween. Some of your kids may be a little shy to state their restrictions and be questioned by other members of the class.
With that said, let the school Halloween party begin!
Our first step in costume management is setting expectations with both students and parents. Use class discussion, your newsletter and your website (if you have one) to make it very clear that costumes:
- Must be safe
- Must not reveal excessive skin
- Must not be gory
- Must not include weapons
- Should be on the simpler, less-complex end of the costume spectrum
Even if your school takes a “do-whatever-you-want” position regarding costumes, I strongly encourage you to follow the guidelines above. An “anything goes” approach will bring out the inner gremlins in many of your kids, undoing in a day many of your classroom team-building and community efforts.
While you are communicating with parents, enlist a few to help get kids ready on the big day. You'll have groups in two different places (classroom and bathroom) and will need all the help you can get.
Oh, and another reminder for your parents: No candy at school. They'll get plenty of that at home.
Getting everyone into costume
The biggest headache of a school Halloween party is getting everyone into their costumes. It can be a true management challenge. Here are a few tips to make it as smooth as possible.
Have your students bring their costumes in a bag and first thing in the morning line them up along the wall in alphabetical (lunch-line) order. Hopefully, having them bagged and out of the way will help your students focus a little better on their lessons (but don't count on it).
When it's time, start the dressing-up process.
Depending on the complexity of the costume, some kids stay in your room and others go to the bathroom (supervised!). Kids with Halloween costumes that are primarily masks and items that go over their clothing stay in the room; those who must do a complete change go to the bathroom.
Give everyone a time limit. Ten minutes should be sufficient.
All dressed up? Take some pictures! Now it's time for the party.
Fun without the candy
The Halloween school party is probably the easiest holiday party to put on as far as ideas go. I'll provide a few ideas that have worked for me, but you can find thousands of ideas on the internet. Just remember:
- Keep them simple
- Avoid activities or food that make a mess
- Keep your party ideas focused on learning to the greatest extent possible
Try these out:
A few minutes at the beginning of the party of freeze dancing really helps set the mood. Find some fun music and then stop it every several seconds and see how long the kids can hold their poses before continuing.
OK… I'll admit that the idea above has nothing to do with curriculum! But it does get your whole classroom community to stop focusing on “how cool is my costume” and start focusing on having fun together. Here are some curriculum-based ideas:
Finalize your study of bats
I have often taught bat-themed reading and math units in preparation for the big party. Then at the party we make bat hats or some other bat-themed item from the internet as a fun wrap-up activity.
Pumpkin estimating I
You can bring in a pumpkin and each student can try their hand at estimating its weight, diameter and circumference (if these skills are appropriate for your grade level) before measuring these factors to see how close they came. (No, no one “wins” the pumpkin!)
Pumpkin estimating II
Another math activity that requires a little work at home from you is to remove the seeds from a small pumpkin and a large one and count them. Put the seeds from the small one in a bag and let the kids know how many there are. They have to extrapolate to the large pumpkin and estimate how many seeds it contained.
School Halloween party food
Keeping with a healthy-food theme, here are some snack ideas for your parent volunteers to bring:
- Vegetables and dip
- Fruit and dip
- Cherry tomatoes (= eyeballs)
- Sugar-free Jello (make it black!)
And two that take a little more prep work:
- “Ants on a log” (peanut-butter-filled celery with raisins)
- Cracker spiders (two crackers with pretzel-stick legs held in between with peanut butter
If you don't have parent volunteers and still want to provide a snack, choose the easiest single thing from the list above and call it good.
If you think other classrooms will go along, you could enlist your fitness teacher (the supposed biggest promoter of health in your building) to judge each classroom party for the healthiest snacks.
If bags of candy show up, in spite of what you have told parents, each student gets one piece that they place in a treat bag to take home and the rest goes home with the kid who brought it.
The final word
Does it all sound exhausting? It is! Classroom behavior management is always more difficult when a routine has been upset – and a Halloween school party defines “upset routine.” As I've mentioned several times, keep it simple. Fun school activities don't have to be elaborate to be engaging for students.